The plague of illegal dumping

JBLM faces a growing problem

By J.M. Simpson on May 24, 2022

After turning left off Eighth Ave. E and driving a few hundred yards, Ron Grantham made another left turn onto a dirt road leading into Training Area 15.

After bouncing down the road for a few hundred yards, Grantham stopped the truck and got out to inspect a pile of garbage that someone had illegally dumped.

The usual suspects of aluminum food cans, a chair, cardboard boxes, clothing and plastic bottles covered the area. There was also a blue plastic bin partially filled with water, more cardboard, a small plastic box, and an American flag.

"I don't believe I've seen this before," commented Grantham, an official with JBLM's Directorate of Plans, Training, Aviation, Mobilization & Security/Current Operations (DPTAMS/CUOPS), when he saw the flag.

Upon closer inspection of the container, he found several pieces of paper that appeared to be invoices. On them was the name and address of an individual named Fitzgerald. On the ground surrounding the container were more invoices with the same surname on them.

Grantham took out his cell phone and began to take photographs of the invoices. "We've got a person who investigates illegal dump sites like this one, and we call him the ‘Trash Cop.'"

During the first week of May, approximately 1,000 soldiers participated in Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Spring Cleanup. A biannual event, another cleanup will occur during the first week of November.

"Illegal dumping is an issue the installation faces throughout the year that we address during weeklong spring and fall cleanups," added Grantham. "The training areas are not within the boundaries of the base gates; they are vulnerable to illegal dumping from those who choose not to pay for bulk trash pickup or to take their trash to county landfills."

Grantham added that during the past several years soldiers have found everything from a meth lab, several homeless encampments and a complete set of household furniture, to drums of motor oil, automobile parts and large household appliances.

He noted that the base has been working with local law enforcement agencies to help in combating the growing problem.

The cleanups began in 2005 when approximately 600 tons of trash was found to have been illegally dumped on JBLM, most of it in training areas. Since then, while the number has decreased it still remains high.

During this Spring Cleanup, the numbers are as follows: Trash: 88.25 tons (6.75 tons more than last fall); Metal: 16.23 tons (5.35 tons less than last fall); Wood: 17.55 tons (6.67 tons more than last fall); and Yard Waste: 24.82 tons (0.38 tons less than last fall).

This totals to 146.85 tons of illegally dumped materials, which is 7.69 tons more than last fall's cleanup. The total cost for just the disposal was $23,633.47.

"There are other costs associated such as: the disposal of items that contain refrigerant, C-wire disposal, hazardous materials collection and disposal, LeMay Mobile shredding, and the cost of military manpower to plan and execute the event," said Jaimie Wharton, an engineering technician with the Directorate of Public Works.

Illegal dumpers can be fined $50 to $5,000, depending on the type and amount of trash. They are also required to pay for the cleanup cost which begins at $500. Hazardous cleanups and environmental remediation can cost thousands.

"Service members have to go out a couple of times a year to collect and transport this trash," concluded Grantham. "Many like to say they love the troops, but yet every piece of trash they leave behind forces our troops to pick up." 

For more information about illegal dumping, visit: